Drug seizure: Costa Rican Drug Control Police guard several bags of cocaine confiscated by security forces in 2014. From January through November, police in Costa Rica seized about 23 tons of cocaine and more than 13 tons of marijuana. (Courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security)
Drug seizure: Costa Rican Drug Control Police guard several bags of cocaine confiscated by security forces in 2014. From January through November, police in Costa Rica seized about 23 tons of cocaine and more than 13 tons of marijuana. (Courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security)

COSTA RICA JOURNAL (Dialogo-Americas.com) Costa Rica’s new anti-drug strategy, which targets organized crime leaders and seizes contraband to cripple their operations, has registered a series of successes since the Ministry of Public Security launched in May.

Thanks in part to the new approach, seizure totals have jumped this year compared to 2013. Security forces have seized about 14 million dollars in cash from drug trafficking organizations in 2014, compared to 4 million dollars last year. This year, they’ve confiscated 23 tons of cocaine and 13.5 tons of marijuana – figures already higher than the totals in 2013, when officials seized 19 tons of cocaine and four tons of marijuana.

Drug traffickers are drawn to Costa Rica because of its geographic location in the middle of the Americas; their ships and semi-submersibles used for transporting drugs frequently pass through the country’s maritime routes. Most of the drugs transported through Costa Rica originate in South America, according to reports by the Judicial Investigation Division (OIJ). That includes 600 to 900 tons of cocaine that passes through every year into Mexico and the United States.

Intelligence leads to successful security operations
Seized cash: Costa Rican police seized 14 million dollars from organized crime groups from January through November 2014. Some of the seized money will be used to hellp build a communications intervention center in 2015, according to Celso Gamboa, Minister of Public Security. (Courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security)

Seized cash: Costa Rican police seized 14 million dollars from organized crime groups from January through November 2014. Some of the seized money will be used to hellp build a communications intervention center in 2015, according to Celso Gamboa, Minister of Public Security. (Courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security)

Police are developing information about drug shipment and distribution networks, as well as expanding their intelligence-gathering capabilities – all of which help them target drug loads and the financing for organized crime.

“We are attacking drug trafficking structures where they least expected it: economically. Of course, we still arrest local drug dealers, but we go further,” according to Public Security Minister Celso Gamboa. “Through intelligence, citizen cooperation through complaints, and forensic reports, we are determining where the drugs are coming from, disrupting the organization from the top, and seizing their property.”

Such seizures cripple organized crime organizations by cutting off their funding at the source.

Seized cash: Costa Rican police seized 14 million dollars from organized crime groups from January through November 2014. Some of the seized money will be used to hellp build a communications intervention center in 2015, according to Celso Gamboa, Minister of Public Security. (Courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security)
Seized cash: Costa Rican police seized 14 million dollars from organized crime groups from January through November 2014. Some of the seized money will be used to hellp build a communications intervention center in 2015, according to Celso Gamboa, Minister of Public Security. (Courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security)

“The drug lords are replaced, and the drugs that are seized are replaced by drugs that drug trafficking organizations have stored,” said security analyst Paul Chaves. “The true power of these groups is reflected in the number of boats and trucks that are captured, the goods and assets that they have.”

Seized money used to improve security
Another advantage of the public security strategy is that the Costa Rican Drug Institute (ICD) can use assets seized from organized crime groups in the government’s battle against drug trafficking. Security officials are using money seized from criminal groups for drug prevention, education, and treatment. Law enforcement authorities have the power to use funds this way as a consequence of an amendment to the Narcotics Law that Costa Rican lawmakers passed in 2012.

“This is how we are financing the construction of the Communications Intervention Center, which, I hope, will be ready by the first quarter of 2015,” Gamboa said. “It will give us greater capabilities in relation to drug trafficking investigations.”

Improvements in police training
In order to support this strategy, Costa Rican police have improved their level of professionalization with the most up to date training.

For example, throughout 2014, in addition to the regular training offered by the Police School, officers have been provided with courses in intelligence and counterintelligence, anti-drug port and airport control, motorized police operations, and inspections of ships and containers. Through existing cooperation agreements, these courses have been taught by law enforcement officials from Colombia, France, Panama and the United States.

“Professional knowledge is extremely important. Our police a force is becoming professional and has acquired a great deal of experience in these types of operations,” Gamboa said.

The importance of international cooperation
International cooperation hasn’t just contributed to police training in Costa Rica – other countries are also playing a more direct role in the country’s anti-drug operations.

For example, Costa Rica and the United States cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking, primarily by sharing information and resources. In 2014, the U.S. government donated equipment worth more than 1 million dollars to the Costa Rican Coast Guard and aerial surveillance units.

“Drug trafficking generates a number of resources that exceed the capabilities of any state, and Costa Rica is a nation without an army,” Chaves said. “Therefore, international assistance, especially from the United States, which collaborates the most, is essential.”


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